• ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past

Updated: Feb 12

The title is a work in progress. I usually don't have the title right away but I know I want something like the old mysteries I read as a child. Maybe I'll post a survey where everyone gets to vote on the title they like best.


So this will be the beginning of the first novel I share this way. Every Wednesday, I will post 2-4 chapters until the story is complete. If you see an issue or have something to say, you can email or state it in the comment section. I will admit now I am a terrible editor. Some mistakes may slip by but I will work extra hard to catch them first. If not any help is appreciated.


Please sign up to my email list so you can be informed when I post a new article, short story, or the latest installment of this tale. I hope you enjoy and if it doesn't grab you right away, please give it a week or two. Now let's see where this story takes us...


Chapter 1-3 : 3465 words

Art by KELLEPICS

Chapter One


Ephraim Godwin sat in silence, studying the room. This was his fourth séance this week, but the first by private invitation. Ephraim found that slightly unnerving as he had proven the other three to be frauds. Why would an individual invite me here unless they found the idea of being caught simply impossible? The last woman believed that until Ephraim pulled the sheet off the table to expose a midget shining light into a crystal ball. Ephraim smiled as he remembered the shock on the little man's face before he decided to continue with his façade. It took a few whacks of Ephraim's cane to get him to break character.


And now he sat in a soft cushioned high backed chair sipping on a glass of sherry offered by a nervous servant, flitting about the room. Ephraim suspected he knew the reason for her distress and soon the whole room would as well. Although rare, it was possible she was in on the scam. He made a mental note to speak with her between now and the event.


"So the great Ephraim Godwin is in the house," a gruff voice said behind him. Ephraim rose and turned, extending his hand.


Almost dropping his wine glass, Ephraim's eyes widened as he said, "Dr. Livingstone, the honor is mine."


The men shook and Livingstone motioned for Ephraim to sit. He took the seat opposite and waived the servant over. Taking a glass of sherry, he drained it in one gulp and handed it back before she scurried away.


"Are you well sir?" Ephraim asked concern visible on his face. As he studied the man across from him, he grew more worried. Dr. Livingstone's bloodshot eyes had large dark half-circles under them and his skin appeared pale. Ephraim read just yesterday that Dr. Livingstone recently returned from Africa. He should be as dark as the natives.


"Just my nerves old boy," he said before pausing and shaking his head. "Forgive me; I am trying to mislead you. No. No, I am not well. I am not ill but there has been a tragedy that I am aiming to make right but I no longer am confident I will."


Ephraim nodded slowly. He thought he understood for he also was trying to right a wrong; a wrong that haunted his many sleepless nights. He hoped a clue could be found with those that commune with the dead but so far he discovered only tricksters and charlatans. Maybe tonight will be different. Ephraim opened his mouth to inquire further but a gong sounded.


All eyes moved to the center of the room. A young woman stood holding a small hammer and the gong. She offered a smile to each person in the room before motioning them to follow her. Livingstone stood and waited as Ephraim finished his drink and placed it on the end table. They followed the others from the room and entered a long hallway. The woman held aloft a candle and the light led them to an enormous circular room in the center of the house.


Ephraim glanced around the room, taking in the smooth walls and lack of additional furniture. A grand circular table sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by seven chairs. Two candles burned in their holder approximately two feet apart on the diameter, the rest of the light came from gas lights spaced around the room. He stepped away from the group and ran his hands on the wall as he circled the table. The woman's eyes never left him as she motioned to the others to take a seat.


Ephraim observed no one was specifically told where to sit, which he found strange. Every other séance had been very specific seating arrangements as each reading was set up to mark out exactly who they planned to target. As Ephraim made his way to where he began, the woman laughed. The sounds of bells filled his ears, and he turned to study her more clearly.


She was tall, even without heels, but tonight with them on she was equal to Ephraim's six feet. Her dress, a light blue trimmed with black lace, flowed to the floor flaring out to make a perfect circle around her. A sizable sapphire sat in the middle of a thick silver choker designed to appear as a butterfly. Her dark hair, naturally curly, was pulled back and secured in a pony-tail with a sapphire butterfly. Ephraim had never seen hair styled in such a way, and he found it charming. She stepped closer and placed her hand on his arm.


"Mr. Godwin as much as I am enjoying your attention, it is time to begin," she said, her voice soft and soothing. The woman motioned to one of three available chairs. He paused a moment, desperately wanting to ask her name and question her on the performance she was about to begin, but he could see from the other's faces his delay was unwelcome.


Ephraim nodded and moved to sit next to Livingstone. He glanced around and studied each face. He recognized no one, but he also didn't run in their circles either. From the clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry they wore, Ephraim was confident he was sitting with the upper class and newly rich. How did I get invited to this?


"Each of you were invited because you are important to one another in a way you do not yet understand," the woman said as she stood between the two empty seats. "Five people needing answers. Answers we hope to provide you tonight. But understand this will not be an easy journey. It will be difficult and dangerous. I am here to alleviate that danger but once we begin, no one is allowed to leave...not the house or the room. Do you understand?"


She gazed at each person, moving her attention only when they nodded. After the last nod, from Ephraim himself, she cleared her throat.


"I am Zona Whitlock," she said, her voice barely a whisper. "Tonight we will make contact and find out the truth to those questions burning in your hearts and souls."


A gust of wind unexpectedly flowed through the room, making the lights flicker and extinguishing the candles on the table. A pair of hands clapped twice and the candles relighted. Ephraim smiled. So far so good, she was much better than the other three he exposed. Livingstone gasped and pointed. The other people at the table joined him in his disbelief as they stared at the tallest man Ephraim had ever seen.


He stood close to seven feet tall but his arms and legs were so thin and long he appeared taller. His long face was pale and his golden hair was pulled back and secured with black ribbon. He wore a black suit with white lace around the cuffs and neck. Ephraim leaned forward hoping to catch any small details. The man's eyes were black holes seemingly drawing all the light to them. Ephraim sat back with a shiver.


"This is my brother, Zachariah Whitlock," Zona said as she took her seat. "He is the one you came to see."


Ephraim blinked in astonishment. The séance was never conducted by a man. Were they not even trying to disguise their subterfuge?


"You doubt me," Zachariah said, his voice like crunching leaves. "Is that not true Mr. Godwin?"


"I am sorry," Ephraim said, "but yes I have come with a doubting mind."


The others exchanged looks and Ephraim wondered if they finally began to suspect this all might be a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. He had met many who swore by the powers of these so-called diviners. He, on the other hand, saw only swindlers and thieves.


"We are much more than that," Zachariah said as he slipped into his chair. "True diviners touch the other side but it comes at a price."


Ephraim gasped before shaking his head in disbelief. A lucky guess, anyone with a brain knows what I was thinking. He glanced at Livingstone and offered a weak smile.


"Including my sister and myself, I see our number is short. I dare not touch the other side with an empty chair in our circle so if you will permit it, we will have Ms. Ellie Blair join us."


The nervous servant issued a squeak from the back of the room. Zona stood and motioned her towards the table. "Please child, no harm will come to you. You will merely be helping us protect the others. An even number will stop an uninvited guest from joining our circle."


"An uninvited guest?" Ms. Blair said in a pitch Ephraim found annoying. He always marveled at how a woman's voice could go in the right circumstances. Joining a circle of madmen trying to speak to the dead must be one of those times.


Her cold hand slipped into Ephraim's, and he gave it a reassuring squeeze. She glanced and offered a timid smile. In the candlelight, Ephraim decided she was quite lovely, surprised he failed to notice it before. Zona sat down and took Ms. Blair's free hand.


"Thank you, my dear," Zachariah's said. "Now we can begin. We have seven souls in the circle and five answers needed. I will begin shortly but first a few rules."


Zona once again cleared her throat, drawing everyone's attention to her, “Once my brother starts, there is no stopping until it is over. The circle must not be broken, but if for any reason it is...do whatever you must to seal the break. Each person will get an opportunity to ask their question. We are all here for delicate matters, and we have all agreed to keep this night private. If you break this vow, I nor my brother can help you in this life or the next, and we will do all in our power to make sure you suffer the consequences as soon as possible."


She stopped speaking and looked each member in the eye, moving to the next as soon as she was satisfied. Ephraim stared back at her, trying to peer past her eyes and truly perceive what she might be hiding. He witnessed nothing but concern and a slight warmth that made his heart jump a beat. He scowled, more at himself than anything Zona had done. You know better than to let a pretty face distract you from your main purpose.


Ephraim had firsthand knowledge of that trick. The second séance used just that tactic to confuse him, as the dark-eyed beauty did all she could to befuddle his senses. They had almost succeeded in fooling him that night, and he swore not to let his vulnerability to the weaker sex confuse him again in a setting such as this.


Seemingly satisfied, Zona turned to her brother and nodded.


Chapter Two


"And so we begin," Zachariah said, his voice somehow sounding even drier than before.


Ephraim studied the man as he began to speak. Softly at first, but building in volume. A pattern emerged quickly, as Ephraim determined Zachariah's voice was louder on every seventh word. Yet, Ephraim understood nothing said. Whatever language being spoken was nothing he recognized; Points for originality.


Ms. Blair's hand trembled in his grip, and he worried she might try to break the circle. Ephraim glanced at her and offered her a calming smile, but she stared at Zachariah with a look of terror. The candles flickered again and Ephraim detected a stiff breeze blowing around the room.


He wanted to search for the source, but he found it difficult to look away from Zachariah. The light from the candles appeared to stretch the man further. His eyes shined with moisture while his face darkened. The chanting abruptly stopped.


"Olive Chattoway, you come seeking guidance," Zachariah said in a voice no longer his.


"Yes," she said, embarrassment tingeing her voice. "But honestly I am hesitant to voice my question to a room of strangers, promises made or not."


A loud thunderclap shook the table, as Zachariah's eyes flashed red. "You were given assurances by the vessel, were you not? Then do not waste our time. We are not here to amuse you with cheap parlor tricks."


Ephraim struggled to keep his hold on Ms. Blair's hand as she wiggled and pulled. Truth be told, he wanted to join her but cold icy fear traveled up his spine, freezing him in place. Ms. Blair whimpered as Mrs. Chattoway began.


"Yes...sorry. I am with child. It is not my husband's, who is quite unable to provide in that way. Only a few are aware of his condition but if it got out it could ruin him. I would not want that but I so desperately want the child."


"Your husband will fall either way but the child will be special. It is up to you to convince him the child needs to be born and that the sacrifice he makes will pay off in time. If you choose to abort the child it will mean both his fall and your death."


The room was quiet for a moment. Mrs. Chattoway held off as long as possible before beginning to cry softly. Ephraim wished he could offer some comfort and hoped the two men by her sides were attempting to do just that. The room grew cold and the candles blew out. Ms. Blair let loose a screech that took Ephraim by surprise causing him to loosen his grip. He cursed under his breath as he scrambled to pull her hand back before she was able to break the circle.


"Calm yourself, Ms. Blair," Zona said, her voice soothing while each word seemed to caress Ephraim's ears. He prayed it had the same effect on the woman.


"William Devitt...speak," the voice commanded as the flames flashed back. Zachariah's face was darker than before but his eyes suddenly became white with no noticeable irises showing.


"A man my partner and I thought dead has returned," Devitt said without pause. Ephraim gritted his teeth in frustration. He failed to introduce himself to the man while they waited for the event to begin. Although it most likely mattered not, Ephraim prided himself on his thoroughness.


Devitt continued, "He was a scoundrel, and we sacrificed him to save the rest of the men. He should have died, if not in battle than as a captive. To our dismay, he didn't and showed up threatening us. Said we should pay to keep him quiet and that he had a way of making sure our secret got out if anything happened to him. Many depend on our business so before my partner and I decide what to do, we need to know...does he have a way or will it end with him?"


The question hung in the air as Zachariah stared at the man. His face lightened a bit before he opened his mouth, and a black shadow poured out. Dr. Livingstone gasped as he watched the shadow form into the face of a man. Ms. Blair began the Lord's Prayer, repeating it again and again hardly pausing for breath.


"You bloody bastards," the shadow said floating in the middle of the table. Ephraim studied Zachariah but his lips stayed still as his mouth was frozen open. "It appears I have your answer, but I swore I'd have my revenge when you left me behind and I mean to follow through."


"What!" Devitt cried out, "No, we have made no decision. I promise you. This is a mistake...a mix-up; I swear we planned nothing more than speaking with Mr. Whitlock."


A dry laugh filled the room as the shadow dissipated. Before completely disappearing, the laughter turned to words. "One last chance at redemption...give the payment to my son. You know where to find him."


The candlelight went out a third time.


Chapter Three


Ephraim shivered. He wasn't sure how it was being done and for the first time, he wondered if he finally found the real deal. The room was quiet save for the heavy breathing of Devitt and Ms. Blair's prayer. The candle flame returned.


"Who wishes to go next?" the voice asked. Ephraim glanced at Dr. Livingstone who shrugged.


"I guess I will," Ephraim said with a steady voice. "But you seem to know everything so why don't you tell me why I am here and what guidance I seek."


He wanted to sound arrogant, enough was enough. No matter how much he wanted it to be real, these two could not speak to the dead, and they could offer no help. So far they had allowed the others to lead them where they wanted to go and offer advice. Well mostly, the shadow face seemed real enough. Ephraim shook his head.


"You wish closure...to learn if your family is dead," the voice replied as a hush fell over the room. Ephraim could feel the eyes of the others studying his face. He struggled to show no reaction to the statement.


"Ephraim, my love," a woman's voice said clear as a bell. Ephraim froze, staring at Zachariah and then shifting his gaze to Zona as the voice continued. "You must stop blaming yourself. You were right to go. Avoiding the war would not have stopped what occurred that day. I'm tired and must go but I will always love you. "


Tears escaped from Ephraim's eyes as his wife's voice faded from the room. He wished his son had spoken but to hear her one last time was a gift. A gift he found unbelievable. He fought the urge to stand and search for a device or a person that could mimic his wife's voice. Ephraim wanted to rage against these two who so cavalierly rubbed his grief and loss in his face. Did they think he was blind or a fool? He would show the world they were charlatans like the others.


"Poor Ephraim, you so wanted confirmation...to acquire the truth, and now what do you do? You think of ways to discredit us, to punish us for succeeding where you thought no one could," Zachariah spoke but the voice was still not his. "If her words were not enough, then understand this; you were on the right path that day."


The room stayed quiet for a moment before the voice spoke again, "and now Doctor Livingstone, what do you seek?"


"Do I go back to Africa?" Livingstone asked so quietly Ephraim wondered if he heard correctly.


"You know the answer," the voice replied. "That is not why you are here."


Livingstone took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "No...no, I guess not. I need to know if that witch-doctor was correct when he read the bones after Mary died."


Ephraim frowned. He forgot Livingstone's wife had passed on their last trip to Africa. Would this be the thing that leads Zachariah to slip up? Secretly he hoped all this to be true, but Ephraim knew it couldn't be. It was against the laws of God and science.


"Was the death of your wife not proof enough? You may not have been there at the end but I hold you as responsible as Roberts. Step foot back in Africa or stay here, your fate is sealed. You had a chance to stop this, but you failed. "


Ephraim straightened up. The voice sounded different; deeper, courser, and filled with anger. He glanced around and found each person staring at Zachariah, even his sister. She wore a look of consternation and moved to pull her hand free. Ephraim's eyes widened in alarm; if she's willing to break the circle then it must be bad.


"What is going on?" Livingstone demanded as he leaned forward, glaring at Zachariah's face.


"I swore before I was finished, I would destroy everything you lot loved. Death won't stop me...nothing can stop my vengeance."


"We must end this," Zona screamed to be heard over the growing wind howling through the room. Ephraim wondered exactly how they were going to accomplish that as the table began to shake and spin. Everyone seemed to be frozen in place until Mrs. Chattoway broke free and stood. She produced a small revolver and aimed it at Zachariah.


"Do you hear the whispers?" she asked with a blank smile on her lips. "They promise me a way out of all this and all I have to do is pull the trigger."


"NO," Ephraim shouted as the wind stopped as suddenly as it began.


The candles' light went out for a final time. As the room plunged into darkness, Ms. Blair slipped from his grasp as Livingstone let go of his other hand. The gun fired; Ephraim's head exploded in pain and his world went black.



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©2020 by Naked Cat Press. All Rights Reserved.